We all have an inner version of ourselves that sometimes drives us to achieve things that we are proud of and other times it holds us back from achieving things that we value. It can at its worst drive us to be self-destructive and be harmful to ourselves and others.
This critical voice forms from our experiences in life, hurtful and unpleasant experiences cause negative emotions and negative thoughts. Many of these experiences are formed when we are young, but any particular stressful or harmful situation can cause us to make negative associations.
Overcoming the inner critic can be difficult, many of us buy into these thoughts. Here are five ways for you to overcome your inner critic and improve performance and well-being in your life.
1. Acknowledge your inner critic as your friend rather than your enemy
Your inner critic is trying to keep you safe from harm. But it is a little black and white with its thinking. And while many thoughts may be possibly true they are rarely helpful.
Acknowledging that your inner critic is at work is the first step to reducing its hold over you. Take a couple of deep breaths and relax, rather than struggling with your critic and see it for what it is, a voice that is offering opinions rather than facts.
2. Come into the present moment
It very easy for us to get on a thought train that doesn’t stop, one negative thought links to another which links to another. This thought train forces your attention to your thinking.
Instead, bring your attention into the present moment. Look at everything directly in your field of vision and note your experience without trying to change it. Before focusing on your breath and your breathing. Lastly expand your awareness back to your body and any sensations that are present.
This mindfulness practice called the three-minute breathing space helps you centre yourself. In the present moment, the inner critic is rarely right, and nothing supports the future that your inner critic has created. Notice this and then take action that responds rather than react.
3. Practice defusing from your thoughts
Rather than fusing with your unhelpful thoughts put some distance between them. One way of doing this is to write your thoughts down and label them as judging, worrying, analysing or criticising etc.
Then whenever they come up say to yourself “I’m noticing that I’m having thoughts and feelings about…” and label the thought.
You can even speak your inner critic’s thoughts in a silly accent. This may sound ludicrous, but it will also help you to defuse from your inner critic.
Self-criticism isn’t correct just because it has come from your mind. The mind is rarely objective but if you believe your critic then it’s prediction will seem accurate. Gaining some distance from your inner critic helps you identify the thoughts that you need to be aware of and the ones you need to let go.
4. Identify the fears, standards and values behind your inner critic
Now you have some detachment and distance from your inner critic you can start to examine it with a sense of curiosity. Ask yourself “what am I really afraid of?” and “who am I trying to be?”.
When considering your fears think about how bad it would be if they were true, would embarrassing yourself in a work presentation be as bad as you expect? Would it be the end of your career? The worst-case scenario is never as bad as you think it will be.
Behind your inner critic is someone who you are trying to become or who you want to be. What values and standards are your critic using, and are they truly reflective of your values and standards or have been adopted from elsewhere?
Sometimes when we are trying to move towards things we value, uncomfortable feelings and emotions will come up. When we step outside of our comfort zone our inner critic will start to warn us of the potential ways we could fail.
By connecting to our internal values, we can find more intrinsic motivation to overcome our fears and take action towards our goals. But if we listen to our inner critic when it is prompting us to do actions based on what we expect from others, then we will ultimately find this unsatisfying and meaningless.
Ask yourself the question, if no one was around to see me live this value would I still do it? Uncover the values you would choose to exhibit and not the ones you are living on behalf of someone or something else.
5. Practice self-compassion
We find it easy to give compassion to friends and family but find it difficult to soothe ourselves. Practising compassion to ourselves can be uncomfortable, and sometimes we see this as self-pity. But self-compassion has undeniable benefits, and you don’t have to practice any meditations to benefit.
Instead, try to connect to a time when you were a young child maybe you have a picture or video of yourself at this time. Now imagine the thoughts and self-criticism you experience now directed at this child. What would you say to them? How would you console them? Say these things to yourself with the same level of warmth.
Of course, there are times when we need to be direct and honest about our behaviour and responses. But you shouldn’t judge yourself too harshly for unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.
A lot of our emotional and cognitive responses are automatic. We have little or no control of how we feel and what we think in response to a trigger. But what consciousness and self-awareness have given you is the ability to become self-aware of these automatic thoughts and actions.
It takes a little effort and training to improve self-awareness. And you need to find strategies that ultimately work for you and not copy others. But if you be consistent and apply these skills to the way you live your life. You find that over time, your outlook will change and your satisfaction with life will improve.